Author: Paul

FNB Park, Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA

harrisburginprogress

FNB Field, Harrisburg, PENNSYLVANIA

Number of states: still 38
To go: 12
Number of games: 1
First game: August 7, 2021 (Erie SeaWolves 7, Harrisburg Senators 0)

(Click on any photo to see a larger version.)

I read about Harrisburg’s City Island, the location in the middle of the Susquehanna River where FNB Field sits, well before

this trip. And I learned about the mini-golf on the island not long before departing on our long drive from Cleveland that morning (with Steven on his 12-year-old trip). What I did NOT realize was that the game was at 6:10 rather than 7:10. So when we got to the island, we were left with a choice: mini-golf or get in line for a Ryan Zimmermann bobblehead? We went with mini-golf. Steven would like for me to report (inaccurately) that he beat me by 27,000 strokes.

That island is what set the tone for the day at the ballpark, and it was quite delightful. There’s a carnival atmosphere (trains,

golf, lovely view of the Harrisburg skyline across the river) that feels right for a night at a minor league ballgame. It is hard not to be sucked into having a good time on that island.

The feeling continues when we are on the inside of the ballpark. Like its league-mate Reading up the road, home of what is (as of this writing) my favorite ballpark in the minor leagues, Harrisburg understands the local baseball history angle. While

they weren’t quite as thorough as Reading, they don’t fall short by much. Throughout the ballpark, it’s easy to see commemorations of past Harrisburg players who have gone on to hit it big. The biggest honor, a bobblehead, was being bestowed to Zimmermann that night, and it was cool to see an area on the concourse with life-size versions of past bobbleheads, including Stephen Strasburg (on whom I zoom in here to show detail):

Meanwhile, the game was presented wonderfully. The sound person was on point. I followed along with the walkup music for Erie’s catcher, number 9, Brady Policelli. His first at bat was announced by the opening to the Beatles’ “Revolution #9.”

“Number nine…number nine…” I happen to know that my wife used this exact clip to introduce opponents wearing #9 when she worked for the Tri-City Dust Devils. Next time up: verse two of the theme from The Brady Bunch. Yep: he’s a man named Brady. And his next at bat: “The Dream Police” by Cheap Trick. This person hit the trifecta! I like playing games like that with the music for the opposition: the “why did we pick this song” game. It’s a kick.

The people around us were cool too. Steven ran up to get a snack or chase down the mascot or some such when a foul ball hit the press box, bounced off the arm of a chair on the section next to mine, then rolled, almost to a stop, next to me, where

Steven’s seat would have been. I didn’t have to move: I just bent down to pick the ball up. A woman across the way walked over and said “That’s great–you’ve got one for your kid!” I was glad she noticed: she had no reason to notice Steven was wandering away.

The overall setup of this ballpark was nice: walk-aroundable concourse, tons of people attending (that might have been the bobblehead night), and everyone having a great time even during a 7-0 loss. Double-A ball doesn’t hurt, either. I am wondering if this atmosphere is throughout the Eastern League (oh, excuse me, I mean “Double A Northeast”). If so, I may have to hit every park. Between Altoona, Reading, and Harrisburg, they sure seem to have this whole minor league spectacle-while-respecting-baseball thing figured out.

So, well done, Harrisburg.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8.5/10 Great on the outside, okay on the inside.

Charm: 4/5 Cool stuff throughout, and a carnival atmosphere. 

Spectacle: 5/5 Packed to the gills with stuff that never interfered with the game. Audio person was really bringing the A game tonight. 

Team mascot/name: 3.5/5 Grrrounder. Team name was nice, but Steven reports that he didn’t know how to give a high five.

Aesthetics: 1.5/5. The only major complaint I have about this place is that it’s kinda unattractive when viewed from the outside, and kinda antiseptic-looking on the inside.

Pavilion area 5/5. Lots of activity and the ability to see the game from almost anywhere. 

Scoreability 1.5/5 A pretty severe error with incorrect lineups on the video screen and/or the checking–not corrected until the third inning. It messed up my book a bit. 

Fans 5/5. A fan told Steven he dropped his wallet. That’s really nice. 

Intangibles: 4.5/5. Great stuff here throughout–love the atmosphere and the nice day. 

TOTAL: 38.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Two home runs by Josh Lester lead the SeaWolves’ attack. Riley Greene and Kerry Carpenter also go deep for Erie.

Top prospect Spencer Torkelson walks twice and strikes out thrice.

Beau Briske and Chavez Fernander combine for the shutout.

The only highlight for Harrisburg is Donovan Casey at the bat. He has two hits.

Written August 2021.

Classic Park, Eastlake, OHIO

 

lakecountyinprogressClassic Park, Eastlake, OHIO

Number of states: still 38
To go: 12
Number of games: 1
First game: August 5, 2021 (Lake County Captains 5, Lansing Lugnuts 1)

 

After the plane trip from hell (took nearly two days, one cancelled flight and one delayed by six hours, two missed baseball

games (replaced by one in the city we weren’t supposed to be in), Steven and I were back on track for his 12-year-old trip. We spent a full day at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where my kid’s love of classic bands sprung forth. And then we zipped out east through not-too-bad traffic to get to Cleveland’s eastern suburbs–the 440, as they call it, to settle into a night of high-A baseball.

Not surprisingly, we were in the middle of nondescript suburbs, but the setting of this park sort of took the worst parts of suburbia rather than the best. I sort of like ballpark-in-regular-neighborhood: I grooved on this in Batavia and Idaho Falls, for instance. But somehow, Classic Park (named for an auto dealership) manages to take all of the negatives of suburbia. The views…are as blah as anywhere in baseball. One whose eyes wander past the outfield walls during the game will be rewarded with not lakes or skylines, but with the backs of strip malls. The backs. With the loading docks and alleys and…nothing. Nothing worth looking at. Even from the outside, the ballpark blends into a nearby business. Steven and I did like the adjacent field for adaptive baseball: kind of cool. But as far as setting…this one didn’t do much for me.

First impressions are important, and for whatever reason, we kept running into parents being less-than-good with their kids.

In the parking lot, there was a dad who was shouting to a nine-year-old-or-so, “I don’t want to hear this from you!” I want to be gentle with a parent having a bad day: Lord knows I’m not perfect. But I could see my kid recoil a little bit, as I did. And I could see the nine-year-old NOT reacting to his parent: apparently this happens all the time. Steven did tell me that I have never been more than 80% as mad as that guy. So that’s a thing. Unfortunately, this continued into the park. One of the Little League teams and their coaches were perched in the suite above us. Again, I get that kids can move around a bit. But the coach shouting “Sit down and cheer!” felt…um…like a guy who’s never around school-aged boys. They move. And if you’re blessed enough to be in a suite where they won’t get in anyone’s way, you deal with it.

Speaking of kids getting in anyone’s way, about a half dozen of them parked in the aisle, between our front-row seats and home plate. I could still see if I leaned way forward. I didn’t think it was worth telling all of the parents to get their kids out of there–again, trying to practice grace–but it did bug me. 

The folks working for the Captains were all sweet and kind and small-town family vibing. Promotions were okay–with one notable exception. Every time a Lugnuts batter struck out, we were treated to a sound. This is not uncommon in the minor league world, but this is the only time I had to hear a flushing toilet. They played a flushing toilet. The Captains had a fantastic couple of pitchers who kept missing bats, so I kept hearing a toilet flushing, followed by a blurb advertising a local plumber. I didn’t want to keep hearing this. To be fair, with a 12-year-old, we managed to have it get funnier every time. Someone was having really bad intestinal trouble to keep having to flush like that. So, in the promotions department, this one didn’t do much for me.

At baseball games, we tend to feed ourselves before the game and then enjoy a fifth-inning treat. Steven wanted to recommend the two scoops of Buckeye ice cream, which were fantastic. (The saleswoman, he reports, didn’t know what Buckeye ice cream was–so score one for Steven taking the risk.) And Steven’s jalapeno burger made his eyes water with spiciness–he was a big fan of that. Ah…I remember the days when I could do that kind of thing, too. Enjoy it while you can, kid.

The announced attendance was 1,832, but I think the actual bodies in the park were about a third of that. It was quiet, save a few angry parents and coaches and the handful of kids in front of me. But there were also wonderful people. One gave Steven an extra baseball he had before taking off in the sixth inning. (He was a good dude, though, asking me for how I’d score a few plays.) And then the Lugnuts’ center fielder, Lester Madden, Jr., tossed Steven a ball as he ran off the field. So a good night. And Steven won a major award! Jose Tena of the Captains hit a home run, and Steven’s name was drawn from the (very few) entries in a contest. He got a pretty dope backpack with some nice pens, golf colored pencils (who knew this was a thing?), and a mouse pad. So we left the ballpark with a fair amount of swag.

In the end, this ballpark won’t score well. But it hardly matters when you have nice people around you and you’re back on schedule for your 12-year-old trip. 

BALLPARK SCORE:lakecountysign

Regional feel: 5/10

I liked the 440 T-shirts and the local advertising and food (“Lake effect ice cream”…love that name). And the lighthouse in center field was pretty cool for a town on Lake Erie. But overall, this didn’t feel like I was in a specific place.

Charm: 2.5/5

The backs of a strip mall are not charming. Only kind people bumped up this score.

Spectacle: 2/5 

When a big chunk of your spectacle involves a flushing toilet sound, you’re in trouble.

Team mascot/name: 5/5 

The mascot, Skipper, was fabulous. We joked around a ton as he honked his weird wrist-horn. It was a joy just to kibitz with him. And the name is just about perfect for a team by a lake–the center field lighthouse is especially nice.

lakecountylighthouse

Aesthetics: 2/5

Bad on the inside and on the outside…it just wasn’t an attractive place.

Pavilion area 3/5

On the one hand, I could walk around the entire park and could see the game the whole time. On the other hand, we had the saddest play area I have ever seen in a ballpark. Deflated bouncy houses that were never inflated. (“Luckily there were no kids in there when they deflated it,” Steven points out.)

Scoreability 4/5

The Captains were quite good here, catching everybody’s names and scoring decisions (except for missing one pitcher).

Fans 2/5

Very few of them, and a couple of yelly coaches and dads. One nice parent, but so many kids in front of me.

Intangibles: 4/5

Some parts of this night were a drag, but I’ll remember the one-one-one time with my eldest kid, as well as his getting two baseballs and winning a promotion.

TOTAL: 29.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Captains’ pitchers were the stars, with four of them (first-round pick Tanner Burns, Jared Janczak, Nick Gallagher, and Kevin Kelly combining on a two-hitter. They combine for 13 strikeouts, which creates 13 toilet-flushing sounds over the PA.

Jordan Diaz homers for the Lugnuts. Jose Tena drives in three for the Captains, including a home run which gives my kid some swag.

Written August 2021.

[New] Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, New York

yankeeinprogress

Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, NY

Number of games: 1
First game: June 24, 2021 (Yankees 8, Royals 1)

I found the old Yankee Stadium not to be terribly special: I liked hanging out with the ghosts, but didn’t find much special about it. So when I returned to New York to see the new place, I wasn’t expecting much. Turns out I was pleasantly

surprised. The Yankees have managed to create a place where they respect the team’s history without going over the top about it.

Well, with one exception. But we’ll get to that later.

I got off the D train and turned the wrong way, thus finding myself a few blocks away from the ballpark in the Bronx. I have to say that I really like the cell phone for this reason more than any when I travel. Yeah, I look like the tourist that I am: I mean, I’m carrying a scorebook and wearing my Gwinnett Stripers hat. But instead of wandering around aimlessly, I can sit down and look like I’m just checking out my phone. As such, I got turned back west to the ballpark.

And this is how I discovered one of the things I like most about Yankee Stadium. It is totally embedded into its neighborhood. There are actual, local businesses surrounding the place, like, right across the street from it. Sure, there’s a McDonalds, but there are also sports bars and actual mom-and-pop businesses to be had. I don’t know whether this is different from how it was when I visited the old place in 1999: truthfully, I didn’t poke around

the ballpark back then, in part because of fear and in part because of time. But today, I did, and I liked it.

I especially liked Heritage Park across the street. Replacing a baseball stadium with a baseball park is nice enough: I enjoyed seeing a couple of guys hitting fungoes in the new place. The day-to-day business of life went on: I encountered a couple of day care groups walking through the park. I was wondering whether the biggest of the fields was the location

of the infield of the old place: turns out it was close, as second base on the new field is approximately where home plate was at the old stadium. It felt like they got the new park right, with lots of moments of Yankee Stadium history (games, concerts, Papal visits) embedded in stone in the ground. But I felt like, in the nine years since they had put this down, they hadn’t put enough love into it: weeds were in the outfield and the stone plaques in the ground had been trodden over enough that they were barely readable. Nonetheless, a baseball history guy like me could wander around that park for a while thinking of the ghosts. I do wonder whether the ghosts stay on the old site or if they move across the street into the new place. I suppose, as ghosts, they can do whatever they please.

I didn’t expect restraint in the way that the Yankees handled their 27 championships (all of them, incidentally, in the old place), but I found something like it. The only real reference I saw to the championships was in sets of photos ribboning

the main concourse, with every championship from 1923 to 2009 commemorated in a few photos of the teams from each year. Seeing a photo of (I think) Scott Brosius jumping high leads me to remember images I didn’t know I had stored in my brain, and looking at the old-time photos: well, seeing the joy of a championship feels timeless to me. Yankee Stadium takes advantage of that timelessness and puts it all together in one place. Even something relatively simple like the food court gives a nod to that history. Above the concession stands in the main food court, uncaptioned, are photos of great Yankees eating. There’s Reggie Jackson with a Reggie bar. There are Berra and DiMaggio eating Italian. Eating is one thing we all share, so it’s cool to see these great ballplayer humanized as I’m about to grab my popcorn. It leads to the idea of “I’m just like them,” only…well, nobody’s going to put a photo of me up on the ballpark, so I guess not.

Then, Monument Park. It was pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The monuments look exactly like they do on TV. It’s cool to be there–I took a shot of DiMaggio,

my dad’s favorite childhood player, and texted it to him. I liked watching people responding, sometimes with restrained emotion, to seeing the monuments of their favorite player.

But over it all is a MASSIVE monument to George Steinbrenner. I found it garish–offensively so. Not only is George’s monument bigger than that of all of the players–maybe four times the size–but it is even bigger to the 9/11 monument they have back there. It’s appropriate, as egotistical as the guy is: he actually thought he was better and more important than Ruth and DiMaggio and Mattingly…and the heroes who ran into the Twin Towers. I just can’t get over that. As relatively restrained as everything is in the ballpark, that’s how unrestrained George is. He ruins Monument Park.

Right above Monument Park is a place they called the Pepsi Lounge where my ticket gave me access. I didn’t choose to stay there during the ballgame, but I can see the appeal. The Pepsi Lounge is inside the batter’s eye. I had never thought of this as a location where people could sit before

(although it certainly happened before batter’s eyes were blacked out sometime around my youth). They have signs banning flash photography, which is fair enough. But to sit somewhere where I can look straight at the catcher’s glove? That might be worth a return trip.

For this trip, I perched my buddy David and me in the front row of the fourth deck. A sign helpfully said that I could not stand next to the railing, so I army-crawled to my seat to stay in compliance. (No, not really.) It was a nice seat and a fun day. I miss Bob Sheppard, but the current PA guy, Paul Olden, did fine.


I went in an off year for the Yankees. My experience there in 1999, when the Yankees were in the middle of three straight titles, was that fans were surly. I was wondering what it might be like to be in the midst of an off year: maybe instead of a kid shooting me with a water pistol, I’d experience heavier ammo. Not this time. The Yankees busted out to a big lead early, hit three home runs, and never gave their fans a chance to get mad.

Then, after the victory, Sinatra. “New York, New York.” I was departing Yankee Stadium for the last time on this trip, and I

asked David, my native companion, an important question. I know that if I make it there in New York, I’ll make it anywhere. I was at the end of my trip. Key question:

Had I made it there?

David, who is definitely not a tourist, said that yes, I had. Since I hadn’t been mugged or conned, I had made it there.

So there you have it. I can officially make it anywhere.

Nice ballpark, Yankees! I will be delighted to return one day.

BASEBALL STUFF I’VE SEEN HERE:

Aaron Judge had the big day, going three-for-three with two walks, a double, and a home run. Luke Voit and Gary Sanchez also homered.

Jameson Taillon pitched effectively for the Yankees to get the win.

Hanser Alberto has two hits for the Royals.

Maimonides Park, Brooklyn, New York

brooklyninprogress

Maimonides Park, Brooklyn, NEW YORK

Number of states: still 38
To go: 12
Number of games: 1
First game: June 23, 2021 (Brooklyn Cyclones 3, Jersey Shore BlueClaws 2, 10 innings)

I can’t separate my feelings about Maimonides Park from the way I spent the entire day, and as a result, the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones will likely score higher than it might have on any other day. This was a fabulous day at the ballpark,

and the ballpark itself did well to take advantage of my fantastic mood.

I sandwiched the Cyclones between visits to the Mets and Yankees on a three-day trip to New York in 2021. At that moment, the city–and the country–was just starting to wake up from the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, as I write this during that summer, I realize we may have some fits and started before we are totally done, depending on vaccinations and variants.

Still, setting aside that future, June 2021 felt incredibly special. People were starting to go maskless and seating pods in stadiums were going away. I felt like I could put my vaccinated body wherever I wanted outdoors and feel safe. And that was the point of the entire trip. 

Because 2020 was a horrible summer. I don’t want to lessen the tragedies and traumas of those who lost loved ones or jobs in that trash heap of a year. Nothing lessens that. But I remember sitting in my house for that entire summer, watching baseball in empty stadiums on my TV screen instead of doing my planned New England jaunt with my baseball buddies (stay tuned for 2022). It was psychologically taxing for me.

This wasn’t just because of the baseball. While one might think I am an extrovert, given my love of being on stage, I’m

actually a pretty interesting balance between extroversion and introversion. I learned that what I most valued and missed was just being around strangers without having to talk to them. I like being at a ballpark surrounded by all of that energy. Sometimes I like to chat with the people around me: indeed, it has provided for some great memories meeting people. But I also like just being on my own in a crowd. 2020 didn’t allow that.

This is why I chose New York City for my first ballpark trip as COVID restrictions lifted. I can’t think of a better spot in the world to be by myself around a slew of strangers. That’s kind of what New York does. And it’s what I did that day, June 23rd. I walked 13 miles. Got a bagel. Fifth Avenue to 34th Street to the High Line. World Trade Center Memorial across the Brooklyn Bridge. I kept seeing faces: unmasked faces. I was outside. I was vaccinated. I was safe. Faces of all colors. Gorgeous faces. Plain faces. Smiling faces. Business-deal-concentration faces. Tourists like me. Locals. This is obviously an everyday occurrence in New York, but I was beside myself with joy after a 2020 with almost no new faces in it–and the few I saw were half-covered.

The last of those faces were on the Coney Island Boardwalk as I approached the ballpark. And there’s something about an amusement-park boardwalk that encapsulates the whole minor league baseball experience. It’s all about the fun. I loved being around those people.

So when I got to the ballpark, I was predisposed to like the place, and I did.

They have a sense of Brooklyn baseball history. They’ve set up a statue of Pee Wee Reese with his arm around Jackie Robinson, creating a memorial to that critical moment when Reese showed that he sided with his teammate and not

with racist jerks in the stands in Cincinnati. While I worry a bit about centering white people in Robinson’s story, I still find this moment poignant. As a white guy myself, I cannot place myself in Robinson’s shoes or pretend to understand what he went through. But I can place myself in Pee Wee Reese’s shoes (or in Andrew Goodman’s, or Michael Schwerner’s, or Isaac Hopper’s…), so I periodically like seeing those stories presented in a subtle way as subplots to the main story. A memorial to that moment is a nice complement to the retirement of Robinson’s number. The history goes beyond baseball, of course, as every Brooklyn police officer or firefighter who died as a result of September 11th attacks is memorialized with an individual plaque with their likeness on the side of the building, as are police and firefighters from the other boroughs (listed by borough separately). 

Inside, pillars with former Cyclones who have since become Mets, such as Syndergaard and Conforto, look out at the

field. Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs are available, which helps the ballpark pass the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. Amusement park rides pop up past the batter’s eye every now and again, and I suppose that if you angled yourself just right, you could see the Atlantic Ocean.

The game itself turned out to be every bit as fun as I wanted it to be. When I saw the opposing pitchers had really high ERAs, I was ready for a slugfest, but instead, the game stayed scoreless until the 6th and zipped to extra innings tied at 1. We put the stupid zombie runner on base at that point (I was delighted to hear people yelling that the rule was stupid). When the home team won, it put a pretty nice cap on the evening.

This just felt like a package of fun where the baseball still got to take center stage. The only time I felt like the promotions interfered with the night was for the “villain of the game,” their term for the guy on the other team who needed to strike out for some section to win something (I don’t remember the details). Poor Herbert Iser was the villain of the game, and wound up wearing a golden sombrero: he couldn’t touch any kind of pitch the Cyclones threw at him. So he had taken care of his three strikeouts by the seventh-inning stretch, but STILL got to hear the horror-movie music to villainize him has he struck out again to end the top of the ninth. But beyond that, I found the Cyclones to be respectful of the game.

I would have thought about heading back for a second game the next night had the trip on the subway not been so long (as it turns out, Long Island is a fairly Tall Island as well). On the whole, this was very well done.

brooklynmoon

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 8/10

Plenty of Brooklyn around: Jackie and Pee Wee, 9/11 heroes, the ocean, the boardwalk, New York accents, Mets history…the ballpark does well here.

Charm: 3.5/5

This score was hurt by the turf field.

Spectacle: 4/5

The whole day felt like a spectacle: the amusement park, unlike at Altoona (the only other place I can think with a visible roller coaster), seems to bleed into the attitude and mood of the entire night. They were, on the whole, respectful of the game while still up for some non-game fun.

Mascot/Name:  3.5/5

brooklynmascot

Sandy the Seagull didn’t do much for me. The team name, though, was delightful: I like naming the team directly after the roller coaster.

Aesthetics: 3.5/5

Charming place, yes, but not terribly good-looking.

Pavilion area 3/5

We can’t walk around the entire park on the inside, or watch the game from the outfield. But one can see the game easily from the walk from foul pole to foul pole.

Scoreability: 4.5/5

Solid work here. I was never lost save one wild pitch/passed ball question.

Fans: 5/5

How can I argue against my longtime ballpark friend David? People, on the whole, were very friendly.

Intangibles 4.5/5

So much to like about this night: it was the end of a fantastic day. Only the long subway ride detracts here.

TOTAL: 39.5/50

Baseball stuff I saw here:

Brooklyn comes back to win in the bottom of the tenth. After scoring the zombie runner without a hit (HPB, walk, walk), catcher Jose Mena lobs a single in front of the right fielder for the winning RBI.

Strong pitching by Jersey Shore’s Ethan Lindow and Brooklyn’s Alec Kisena take us deep into the game without a run.

Citi Field, Queens, NY

 

Citi Field, Queens, New York

First game:  June 22, 2021 (Braves 3, Mets 0)

It was 1999 when I took the 7 train to Shea Stadium. I was 29, single, and scrounging together money to travel around the country trying to conduct long-distance relationships and attend ballparks before starting a new job. I was 51 when I returned, a married dad, leaving my wonderful wife and equally-wonderful children behind for three days of solo R&R. It feels different doing this as a middle-aged man, but it’s certainly fun either way. I like the idea of having fun and heading home to my wife more than having fun and leaving behind a sort-of-but-not-really girlfriend. Man, time sure blasts on. The last time I watched a game in Queens, Ronald Acuna was in diapers. Now he’s on the field and a household name…

Some things, however, stay the same. The ballpark is still surrounded by oceans and oceans of parking lot. As a result, it’s hard to succeed at the is-there-any-question-where-this-is test. The small-but-nice Mets museum? Yes. Billy Joel singalong (10,000-plus fans singing “Piano Man” in the middle of the 8th, which sounds cool)? Wonderful–and you don’t get more Long Island than Billy Joel. And I was taken by a dilapidated muffler shop across the street, which seemed to be holding out in the middle of all of the parking lots: people were actually working in there as the fans streamed in. Loved it.

Still, there’s a little bit missing here. I got myself a nice seat with access to a swanky club behind home plate.

 I liked the super-cushy seats, but the setup was such that we were behind the press boxes and had no view of the

field: just a few of the Arthur Ashe tennis court nearby. I do admit that this was a

good place to wait out a rain-delay: probably the best way to wait out rain, as I have learned in the past. I couldn’t sit in the comfy chairs for too long: my 51-year-old self doesn’t handle red-eye flights quite as well as my 29-year-old self did, and I’d have fallen directly to sleep. But it still seems strange that someone would pay all that money to get to a ballgame and then just watch it on TV. Different strokes, I suppose. (But I can’t argue with that killer pastrami sandwich. Wow. 15 bucks and worth every penny.

I am not a huge Mets guy, but the dude checking us out at the metal detectors looked a LOT like Keith Hernandez of the 1986 World Series winners. For one thing, wearing a mustache in 2021 is way different 

from wearing one in the era of Tom Selleck. Turns out I wasn’t the only person to notice: the people in front of me told him so. He said he gets that a lot. I would imagine 

working at Citi Field is one place where that happens a ton.

I appreciated the passion of the fans for their first 3 or 4 beers. But thereafter–and especially on this night, when the team couldn’t get anything going of offense against Atlanta–it got uglier. One profane and ugly fan was letting loose a section over. (Man, have some perspective! Your team is in first place by five games! And the Yankees are having an off year!). Ushers said “sir? Sir?” to him a few times, and he stopped without leaving (it was the ninth inning anyway). I found the Mets staff to be delightful: they gave me Tylenol at the first-aid space (I headed off a red-eye headache) and the wonderfully-New-York-accented usher remembered me and asked how I was doing several times thereafter. So I got the best and the worst of this fan base.

On the whole, this was a great kickoff to a self-directed three-day NYC tourist blitz by me. I’m not sure when I will get to go back, but I’m glad I got to this one as I try to re-assemble the 30 parks again.

 

Written June 2021.

Las Vegas Ballpark, Summerlin, Nevada

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Las Vegas Ballpark, Summerlin, NEVADA

Number of states: still 38

States to go: 12

First game:  July 12, 2019 (Salt Lake Bees 10, Las Vegas Aviators 7)

(Click on any photo to see a full-sized version.)

We encountered Las Vegas Ballpark on our huge National Park Tour in 2019, as it was between Sequoia and the Grand Canyon. (Quoth 10-year-old Steven: “Las Vegas is really a National Park, isn’t it?” Yes, Steven–it is.) Plus, Vegas is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me.

I don’t drink or do drugs or womanize, but the gambling is a vice I enjoy: the most likely way I will wind up face-down in a gutter someday (so far, I’ve managed it fine).

Las Vegas with kids is a bit of a different experience from Las Vegas without kids. For starters, we drove in along I-15, and the billboards as we approached were a bit intriguing to our 8- and 10-year-olds.

“Dad, what’s a strip club?” 

“Well, Steven, it’s a place where people pay money to watch people dance and take their clothes off.”

[Pause.] [Umbrage.] [Horror.] “Dad, what is WRONG with people? Who would ever want to do that?”

Noted. Still latent. 

After an afternoon engaging in “baby gambling”” at Circus Circus, we headed across town to the planned suburb of Summerlin to go to the brand-new ballpark. And while I was worried this might be part of the recent disease of suburban flight among ballparks (I’m looking at you, Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves). But this didn’t feel like a suburb. This felt like Vegas due to a number of deliberate choices the ballpark people made, and the result was a delight.

For starters, let’s discuss the name: Las Vegas Ballpark. I thought it was a misnomer, since the team moved from run-down Cashman Field (which was actually in Las Vegas) to Summerlin. But it’s not. It’s corporate naming. The naming rights for the ballpark

were bought by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and so they paid to slap the city’s name on the ballpark. They want people to visit the city, obviously.

And this place therefore had many touches that allowed it to pass the is-there-any-question-where-you-are test. While the Strip isn’t visible from the park, the Red Rock Casino and hotel looms over the park, with its immaculately shining

orange-ish windows.  Look out past right field and we have a set of palm trees in a row, not unlike along Las Vegas Boulevard on the way into the city from the southwest. And then there’s the bar in right field. Yeah, I know that ballparks have bars. But I suspect none of these were quite as nice as this bar. Teetotaling me wouldn’t partake, but this was fully stocked with absolutely everything, as I think any bar in Vegas should be, ballpark or no ballpark. 

Which brings me to my favorite part of the ballpark: the lounge chairs.

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This is the only ballpark I’ve ever been to that had lounge chairs as a part of the park that anyone could sit in. Both in the bar in center field, or by the right field foul pole, there are tons of chairs that one can sit in with their drink or whatever, overlooking the pool, or the ping-pong tables, or the baseball game. As in the rest of Las Vegas, watching people is just as fun as watching the show, and that’s an option.

This leads to a conundrum I face with scoring the park. On the one hand, for high-quality

AAA baseball, I’d like there to be less distraction. But here, there are TONS of distractions, with wacky promotions on the field at pretty much ever inning break. Typically, I’m not a fan of this. But in gaudy Vegas, visual stimulation and tons of shows is exactly what the town is about.  So I have mixed views in this place.

Appropriately, a man behind us tried to start a massive betting pool on whether the throw the home plate umpire tossed to the mound between innings settled on the mound or off of it. I’ve seen this played before: it’s called Moundball. But I have never seen it so enthusiastically advocated for at a ballpark as this man behind me did. Rather than the usual two choices (on the mound or off of it), our guy wanted to set up lines for quadrants around the mound. Did the ball settle in the front left off the mound? Front right? Back center? No thanks: not gonna play. Neither would anyone else around us. And this annoyed our friend, who insisted that at any other ballpark he could get people to lay their money down on the umpire’s throw.

This got our section talking to each other, and we met some cool people who had moved to Vegas from various other parts of the country (this is true of most Vegas residents), and who were interested in my past travels as well as our current trip.  And we nearly got everyone going on one more bet.

See, my kids were picked for the tricycle race.

Right before the game, a pair of lovely young women asked my kids if they wanted to do the tricycle race after the 8th inning. My boys enthusiastically assented. And this set up an interesting question. My older kid is bigger and stronger than the younger one, but the younger one spends at least some of his time riding his bike-with-training wheels (the older one doesn’t care to ride). Oddsmakers would likely set this up at even money. The people around us agreed (although no money changed hands).

In the eighth inning, we headed up to the concourse to meet

with some other people. Once there, we encountered a pair of sisters roughly my kids’ age. 

“Are you here for the bicycle race?” Aaron asked them.

Yes they were. And they were excited. And they really wanted to win because they had a victory dance already choreographed.

That there, my friends, is bulletin board material.

So I started talking to my guys about how they would have to figure out how to work together, since this was clearly a team event rather than the individual event we were anticipating. Steven insisted he did NOT want to work with his brother. I said he might have to.

But then the game operations people came.  Turns out there were three pairs: an additional pair of brothers arrived.

“Okay,” said the game ops person. “So you two are together, and you two…” 

“NO!” Steven shouted. “I do NOT want to be on a team with my brother!”

Fair enough, the game ops guy said. He split the brother pairs and put my son with the older brother. This was a kid about his age. He had the look of the MVP of his Little League team, and I think he figured he had this in the bag.

Leadership. Excellence. He turned to Steven and gave him a high-five.

While I do not take joy in the disappointments and emotionally-rough moments of children, I do have to say that what happened next was simply fantastic and amazing and hilarious.

Little League MVP was ready. He asked Steven, “So, are you fast?”

“Actually, I don’t know how to ride a bike,” my son answered.

I watched this kid’s face as he processed this. He was about to get in a tricycle race, and his partner, rather than his athletic younger brother, was a kid who did not know how to ride a bike.  His expression went from confusion, to anger, to trying-to-be-supportive, back to something like annoyance.

Well, the race was a hot mess anyway. Half of the kids were told that the second leg would be heading back towards the left-field foul pole, and half of the kids were told they would keep heading down towards home plate. Aaron’s legs were too short to reach the pedals, so a worker wound up pushing him to the exchange point. Steven decided to run next to his tricycle instead of riding it.

“Nobody said we had to ride it,” he said, working a loophole in the rules. In the end, only Aaron’s team went the right direction, and out of the pandemonium, he got the win (unless that aid given by the MC was illegal). None of this mattered, of course, since everyone got a pack of baseball cards as a participation trophy, but still, neither participants nor referees nor audience knew what was up.

I guess it’s fair to say that’s my feeling about Las Vegas in general. And in the end, this was a tremendous night: really good baseball in front of a happy, packed house that was enjoying the kind of warmth that only happens in a desert after dark.

Vegas, baby. Tons of fun.  The kind of thing that I’d enjoy doing as a part of my next Vegas journey. They managed to get this one totally right.

BALLPARK SCORE:

REGIONAL FEEL: 9/10.

All of the wacky weirdness of Vegas was on display here. Loved this: loved the casinos and the lawn chairs and the de facto ring girls running the promotions.

CHARM: 4/5

Vegas is “charming” in its own way. I can’t give it a perfect score, because kitsch isn’t the same as charm, but this still worked.

TEAM MASCOT/NAME: 4.5/5

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Loved this new mascot (great upgrade on the 51s). This guy’s name is Aviator. Not pictured is Spruce. I don’t know the whole history of aviation in Las Vegas, but I trust it’s there.

SPECTACLE: 3.5/5

In a way, these were fantastic. A little anarchic, but excellent. In other ways, I think they did too much. I’d rather a few really good promotions than the constant confusing action they gave.

AESTHETICS: 5/5

I was taken aback by how beautiful and gleaming this place was.

PAVILION 4/5

Not much going on in the history department, and there were spots beyond the left-field wall that were dull, but good beyond that.

SCOREABILITY 4.5/5

Loved all the detail they offered. Needed some scoring decisions, however.

FANS 3.5/5

Some were quite nice. Some were a bit obnoxious.  Most left early and missed a crazy ending.

INTANGIBLES 4/5

A little hot, and a little busy. But man, this place was fun, and we got an awesome game to boot.

TOTAL 42/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

The Bees come back from several deficits, relying on a few home runs. When down to their final strike in the 9th, trailing 8-6, Jared Walsh blasted his second homer of the night way past anything in right field to give the Bees a 9-7 lead. They added one more and had a one-two-three bottom of the ninth for the win.

Jose Rojas raked for the Bees, with a double and a homer.

Eric Campbell hits a three-run dinger for the Aviators. Sheldon Neuse drives in three using a double and a single.

Written August 2019.

 

The Hangar, Lancaster, California

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Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12

Number of games: 1

First game: July 11, 2019 (Lancaster JetHawks 11, Stockton Ports 10)

 

First, let’s give credit to a guy who saved my family’s bacon on this day, and let’s give some shame to a guy who showed an astonishing lack of empathy.

Family spent the morning of this game poking around Sequoia National Park (recommended), and then shot down I-5 on our way to Lancaster for the game. We stopped at the Shell station in Gorman, California to top off the tank. Put in our five gallons and then got prepared for the last half hour of drive to Lancaster.

Wife turns key. Nothing.

Wife turns key again. Nothing.

I got myself ready for what might happen next. Starter out. A tow. A crapload of money. We miss a game or two or three. We miss the Grand Canyon. The kids are disappointed. The trip is ruined.

I headed inside the Shell station.

Does he have any contacts for any mechanics?

No. Do you have Triple A?

No.  You don’t know even one mechanic in town?

I don’t know any. Are you on pump 3 or pump 7?

That’s us at pump 7. [Points at car, which has wife and kids inside]. Do you have a phone book?

No. I can’t help you.

It is 97 degrees outside and our car won’t start.

I consider going to the McDonalds across the street, but first try my phone. It has just a sliver of coverage, so I am able to Google “Mechanic Gorman California.” I call the guy. He says he will be there in 5 minutes.

He is there in 2.  Turns out we just need a jump.  He gives it to us.  Then he asks us to follow him to his shop.

Incredibly, the shop is just on the other side of the McDonalds. 

I could have thrown a rock from our car and hit this mechanic, and the guy at Shell claimed not to know any mechanics in town.

Our friend (tactfully, avoiding names) said that he had used to work for the guy at Shell, but that he didn’t feel he was treated well, so he started his own shop and drove the Shell’s mechanic shop out of business, and that the man I saw wouldn’t refer anyone to him. He asked for $45. I gave him $50 and demanded

he not give me change.

Kudos to Alex Saenz at ATG Automotive next to the McDonalds off the interstate in Gorman. If you live near there and have a car, go there! He is a good guy whose goal is to help people.

And if you are the guy at Shell and are reading this, you might mull over how you became a person who rather strand a family with two children in a remote location on a 97 degree day rather than say “There’s a shop over there. You can easily walk there.”  Think about whether that’s who you want to be.

Anyhoo. Thanks to Alex, we got to the Hangar (great name!) in plenty of time for the game. And when I got there, I found a nice little ballpark with plenty of quirks.

First, I noticed a stiff, stiff wind headed out to right field: it was pretty much always easy to view

each of the 50 stars on the flag above the field. “Gonna be a ton of homers tonight,” I thought.  I later asked an usher about those winds: whether they were common. “Not all the time,” he said. “Just 90 percent of the time.”

The name JetHawks is fantastic, and refers to the aviation associated with the area. They have made planes for years, including the NASA plane displayed outside the home plate entrance. (Indeed, only as I drove off through the desert outside the ballpark on my way out did I connect Edwards Air Force Base with Space Shuttle landings.)  And they consistently ride the theme through the park, from the mascot to the hangar-like area to eat: it was charming.

It was a bit of a quiet night attendance-wise, with lots of empty seats that became more numerous over the course of a nearly-four hour game. Visiting Stockton took an early big lead: up 8-1. “Remember that no lead is safe in this ballpark,” said the

radio guy, whose voice echoed through the bathroom. I thought that was optimistic.

My own kids continued to have a great time through the blowout innings, each in their own ways.

Aaron talked to kids he had met in the play area like they were decades-long buddies. He told them about our trip, about the ballparks and national parks we had seen, about where we were headed, about school, about his favorite YouTubers…just

over and over again. This is very much not my personality, and it’s cool to see some recessive genes come through in the kid.

Steven, meanwhile, decided it was time to do some ballhawking. He headed up to the concourse and stood there waiting for foul balls. But, because he is a lover of scoring and math, he’d run down to our seat in front of the dugout between every single batter to write down the result in his scorebook. He’d then run back up to try to catch a foul ball. Nothing came close to him, although he tried to chase down most

balls that fell within 100 yards of him.  Still, he got in at least 20,000 steps in those last few innings running up and down the aisle.

And then…

Steven was leaving his seat after marking down a batter in his scorebook in the 8th inning when I noticed a player in the Ports’ dugout ahead of us. He had a ball. He was looking around for a kid to throw it to.

My kid was there.  And he was oblivious.

“Steven!” my wife and I shouted. “Look!  He wants to throw you a ball!”

Steven looked, and the player threw him the ball.  I thanked the player. We waved. The game continued.

I was curious who the player was: I like thanking guys in Instagram or Twitter when they’re nice to my kids (might be the only worthwhile thing about Twitter). So I got out the phone and checked player photos…

and whattaya know, the player who threw the ball was a major leaguer on rehab. Sean Manaea. When Steven found he had been thrown a ball by a major leaguer, he beamed. That’s what it’s all about.

Apropos of nothing: the bathrooms were beautiful.  Check it out.

In the parenting department: A ton of angry drunks at the ballpark on this Thursday night (discounted beer, you know). They were shouting at the umpire for any reason and no reason. My younger kid has a strong sense of justice, and shouted back from his seat.

“What do you mean? He was safe! Totally safe!”  (He was, by the way.) Teachable moment: Michelle and I told Aaron that he wouldn’t be convincing the angry drunks of much on this night, and it was best to let it go. He did: give credit to him.

Incidentally, that bit about no lead being safe?  Turns out it was true. Lancaster came back to win 11-10. Three home runs and a walk-off sacrifice fly. One of the more interesting ballgames I will see. That’s why they call it the launching pad.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 6.5/10. Loved all they did with the airplanes, but this came up short in other areas. Hard to say where we were from the seating bowl (just a highway heading past right field, which also meant traffic noise infiltrated the game). 

Charm: 2.5/5.  This felt like many other ballparks: not much to make it stand out.

Spectacle: 3/5.  Well done: didn’t overdo it.

Team mascot/name: 4.5/5.  Really great once I understood the local background. Here’s my younger kid with KaBoom.

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Aesthetics: 3/5.  Pretty, but in the same way other parks are pretty. The highway didn’t help.

Pavilion: 2/5. Not much going on: lots of grass, and it’s impossible to walk around the park.

Scoreability: 2/5.  Didn’t do much. Missed some key WP/PB decisions. I had to guess.

Fans: 2/5. Some delightful young fans who played with my younger kid, but the overall environment was drunk and surly (it was Thursday night, of course).

Intangibles: 4/5.  A lot going for it here. Saved by a fabulous mechanic to get to the game, and then saw a massive comeback. Plus a major-leaguer threw my kid a ball.

TOTAL 29/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Austin Bernard hits a two-run home run in addition to a walk-off sacrifice fly. Ramon Marcelino also has 4 RBI including a 3-run homer.

Ryan Grdley goes 3-for-4 with two doubles for the Ports.

Written July 2019.

Recreation Park, Visalia, California

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Recreation Park, Visalia, CALIFORNIA

States visited: still 38
States to go: 12

First visit: July 10, 2019 (Visalia Rawhide 5, Inland Empire 66ers 1)

Everything I knew about the Central Valley in California was pretty much what I read in Grapes of Wrath. So our drive in from

Sequoia National Park that hot afternoon was filled, for me anyway, with images of overloaded jalopies. And it was hot: upper 90s. The town itself didn’t mark me except for those two things.

And so when we got to Recreation Ballpark in Visalia, well, it was in the context of a town that still wasn’t doing much to create an impression. And then the ballpark was in a neighborhood that was not too noticeable.  I usually like ballparks that are sort of embedded into a neighborhood, were one cannot really notice there’s a ballpark around save for the lights.

But there’s no two ways about it: from the exterior, Recreation Ballpark is the most aesthetically unattractive ballpark in the affiliated minors. It is literally a crescent-shaped batch of cement poured onto the ground. It looks a little like there

was some huge spill of some sort that they had to make into a thing, and they chose ballpark. I couldn’t walk around the entire park, either on the interior or the exterior, but this is the only place I’ve ever been with so much visible concrete as a key component of its architecture.

On the inside, the ballpark is just fine looking. When I am sitting in the seats so I don’t have to face the cement, I see the beauty of any ballpark, including a barn forming a part of the outfield wall in right-center. That was cool. No view of any sort, but that’s Central California’s problem, not that of the ballpark.

And I can’t complain about the people. The people at Visalia were simply wonderful. The staff greeted us with a “welcome to the

ballpark!” that was the perfect combination of enthusiastic and genuine. This happened multiple times, with pretty much every worker I encountered. I had a delightful conversation with the guy who sold me my mini-bat. Multiple workers and fans noted my Hillsboro Hops gear I wore that day, since Visalia and Hillsboro share a Hops affiliation (I would see several players that day whom I had seen as Hops in earlier years). One fan even asked my wife if one of the players was our son. Two conclusion from that: 1. knowledgeable fans about the minor league system, and 2. man, we’re getting old.  That same woman got Steven a ball and offered to have the players she was hosting sign it for them after the game. What a nice woman! And my younger son Aaron had a fabulous time conversing with the kids behind him. I swear Aaron makes it his personal mission to meet and befriend someone at every new ballpark.

But, alas, simple infrastructure interfered. The seats we got were incredibly skinny.  I’m still a relatively skinny dude (well, when I set my mind to it), and it was tough to position myself in these seats. Also, there was something about our front-row place that I noticed:  that the row seemed to angle in to the wall to the point where, at the aisle, six-foot-three me couldn’t sit right.  We tried that for a couple of innings, then moved.  

The ballpark was also the only spot I’ve ever been that

included lockers on the concourse. There they were–high-school-gym style lockers, embedded directly into notches in the cement foundation.  What in the world?  I asked a worker who they were for, and he said they were for season ticket holder. I suppose that I could use one for the teams I am a season-ticket holder for: keep an extra sweatshirt and a backup pencil there; maybe a few granola bars. But the weirdness of it trumped the convenience as I saw it.

The Rawhide did seem pretty desperate to get butts in the seats.  Our game was a Guaranteed Win Night: if the Rawhide won, you’d get a free ticket to the game two weeks later. But, in a bit of marketing genius, a local insurance agent had a promotion insuring against that. If the Rawhide lost, then the insurance agent would give

you a free ticket to the game two weeks later.  So you had a guaranteed two-for-the-price-of-one deal at the park.  I also spotted another free-ticket offer: on Thursdays, Party City offers free admission to a Rawhide game if you come dressed in costume for the theme of that night. So, Visalia residents, if these promotions hold, you could buy a ticket to the first Wednesday game of the year and get free admission for every Wednesday for the rest of the year.  And then, if you are willing to dress a little silly, you could get in for free for all the Thursdays as well.  Seems to be a financially good move!

The ballpark does nice with this history. First, they tried to make the most of that damn cement by painting California League history onto it, kind of like

a kid with a broken arm asks friends to sign his cast. It’s nice, but it’s still an injury. I really liked the plaques along the inside, which celebrated Visalia baseball both great and small, with Kirby Puckett (whose number is retired by the Rawhide) sitting alongside a woman who hosted a ton of families and fought hard to keep affiliated ball in Visalia.

So I hope that the excellent people in Visalia don’t take this score too personally. You were fantastic. But a cramped, difficult seat, a desperate vibe, and a seating bowl that Steven said would be a motorcyclist’s dream (to ride up and down) win the day.  I will happily go back to see you all, but I would hope that we could meet in a new place.  This is old, but not the charming kind of old. You deserve better.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel:  5.5/10

Barn was nice, and I like the plaques, but that’s about it.

Charm: 2/5

The people were all quite charming, but the park was simply unattractive and run-down.

Spectacle:  3/5

Did this well: could have done a little more at this level, and doing so would have foregrounded the fine people.

Mascot/name:  4/5

Here is Tipper with me. A great mascot and a very appropriate name.

Aesthetics 1/5

Would have been a zero were it not for the barn.

Pavilion 2/5

Not a lot going on. But there are lockers.

Scoreability 1.5/5

Good on quick scoring decisions, but frequently had the wrong batter listed on the scoreboard.

Fans 5/5

Some wonderful, welcoming, fine people.

Intangibles 2.5/5

Had a great time on the whole, but I was physically uncomfortable. This ballpark is the wrong kind of old.

OVERALL:  26.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:

Rawhide pitching, led by Josh Green (two hits, eleven strikeouts, no walks in 6 innings) completely owned the 66ers. 17 strikeouts overall.

Luis Basabe goes 3-for-3.

Written July 2019.

Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, State College, Pennsylvania

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“This sure beats the heck out of Yankee Stadium,” the guy behind me said. While I haven’t yet been to the current manifestation of Yankee Stadium, I can say that the State College Spikes have a perfectly fine minor league ballpark. There are certainly better ones–minor league parks that do beat the heck out of Yankee Stadium, including one quite nearby–that I’d like him to see. But still, there is plenty

going for Medlar Field in State College–enough to make this an excellent night out at a New York/Penn League game.

The park is unquestionably good-looking and unquestionably Central Pennsylvania.  The beautiful Mount Nittany provides the view beyond center field, and if one looks back past the home plate grandstand, Beaver Stadium stands watch over the scene. Indeed, much like at closer-to-home PK Park in Eugene, the Spikes have a deal with

Penn State that shares the ballpark. So there are PSU logos to be had around, and I don’t have much issue with those. And the Penn State Creamery ice cream was worth the wait: I had a helmet sundae. Couldn’t finish it, however.

The Spikes are named not after a railroad, as I thought, but after a young male deer with single spikes as antlers. The mascot, named Spike, is just fine. His handler was a young woman named Jane Doe,

which I found delightful: and she had a tiny deer tail sticking through her skirt, thus indicating she was at least partially related to Spike himself. It’s nice that they found another deer to walk him around: that’s as it should be.

The Spikes did a few things that I wasn’t a fan of. They did tend to view the team a little too much as a promotions-transferrence-device: pimped out a few things between pitches. I was thankful that the strike-out-for-a-free-Big-Mac

opponent struck out on his first at bat. The PA guy was shouting “BIG” and asking the crowd to respond with “MAC” between every pitch in some fashion. “BIG MAC BIG MAC!”  If that had happened every ninth opposing batter, I’d have had some real issues if Onix Vega had not struck out in the first. Thanks, Onix (and State College pitcher Scott Politz, too) for nipping that in the bud. And some of the pitches sounded weird: desperate even. “If you want to hit a home run or just get back on your feet, call [name of some medical group or other].” What does that even mean?  “I want to hit a home run, but I’ll settle for merely standing, really.”  Weird. 

And perhaps the worst moment of the night was during the first pitches.

The Spikes were concurrently running First Responders night with ’90s night.  This led to the following really unfortunate juxtapositioning.

They had a first pitch by the parents of a police officer who had been murdered during his last shift before he left the force. He had plans to get a degree and move on to a second career. The PA announcer was perfect: giving the story its own tragic due. The

parents threw out the pitches, and there was polite, respectful applause.

Then the worst transition ever.

“It’s also ’90s night here at the ballpark, and for our next first pitch…you all remember The Shermanator from the American Pie movie?  Here’s Chris Owen!”

I have no issue with having a respectful First Responders night or a wacky ’90s night. But someone somewhere should have seen that incredibly awkward moment coming. That was a fumble, and it all could have been avoided.

To sum up, they could have turned it down just a tiny bit.

Matt, Rob, and I were joined by Special Guest Ryan at the park that night: Ryan, who is a regular State College Spikes viewer. We sat directly behind the Auburn Doubledays dugout that day, which I always enjoy. Jake Randa, who I took to be a child of Joe Randa since he was born in Kansas City in 1998 (a quick Google search confirms this), was especially chatty and smiley. He’d be the kind of guy I might enjoy playing with.  And there was plenty to celebrate for Auburn too, as they cruised to an easy victory. And we were having bizarre conversations. At one point, somehow, we

discussed torture (I was probably threatening Matt: he has that effect on people). A quite drunk guy not far from us said: “I hear your conversation. Just so you know, I can break all your knees. That’d be torture.” Um…what?

In any event, it was fun. It was lovely. And it was baseball with my friends. Worth a trip. But Spikes: tone down the promotions just a bit, okay?

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional feel: 8/10. Mount Nittany in the distance, State College Creamery, Penn State everywhere: well worth it.

Charm: 2.5/5.  There were moments it had a chance, but the marketing kept getting in the way.

Team Mascot/Name: 3/5.  The Spikes and Spike did very little for me, but Jane Doe was fantastic. I liked that they made her into a deer.

Aesthetics: 2.5/5.  The ballpark itself isn’t that special aesthetically, but has some nice views.

Pavilion area: 2/5.  We couldn’t walk all the way around, either on the inside or the outside. And the cool stuff, like the past Spikes who made the majors, was distant from the field.

Scoreability: 5/5.  Really great here: whoever was in charge was really on top of it.

Fans: 4.5/5.  This would have been a perfect score because of Ryan, but then drunk guy said he could break all of our knees. 

Intangibles: 5/5. A great, fun night with friends.

TOTAL: 34.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:  

Doubledays center fielder Rafael Bautista led the attack with 3 hits and 2 runs.

Carlos Soto tripled and scored for the Spikes.

Written July 2016.

FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading, Pennsylvania

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FirstEnergy Field, Reading, PENNSYLVANIA

Number of states: still 38
States to go: 12

First game: June 28, 2019 (Reading Fightin’ Phils 5, Portland Sea Dogs 4)

(Click on any image for a full-sized version.)

The nerdiest thing I do in my life–and this has quite a bit of competition for the honor–is my spreadsheet.

That page that has all of the records and stats for games I have attended? That doesn’t build itself. That comes from me

inputting everything that happens in my presence into a spreadsheet. And it gives me a ton of joy. On the minor league spreadsheet, I have a box for “MLB All Star,” which I look at every year over the all-star break. Any player I have seen that makes an all-star team gets a check-mark. (Kirby Yates becomes the 19th pitcher to get the check mark in 2019: Ketel Marte, Austin Meadows, and Daniel Vogelbach bring us to 48 on the batting side.)  On the major league side, I put a check mark by any player who makes the Hall of Fame. 

What I do not yet have is a player I have seen as a minor leaguer who has made the Hall of Fame.  (Joey Votto and Buster Posey are probably my best shots right now.)

Why do I bring this up? Because if my spreadsheet had a ballpark, that ballpark would be FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading. It was a delight to be there. Or, as Matt put it, “I think we hit the jackpot tonight, Paul.”

Indeed, we did.

The ballpark is old: it doesn’t match the current ideal of “gleaming place downtown by the river.” Indeed, the seats and such are a throwback compared to the perfectly-oriented green seats I am accustomed to elsewhere. It isn’t in much of a neighborhood: wedged between an arterial street and a factory (appropriate for central Pennsylvania). It is built out of the gorgeous red brick that most of Reading seems to be built out of: surely there’s a reason for all that brick, but I am too lazy to

look it up. When I saw signs touting “America’s Classic Ballpark,” I was a little skeptical. But man oh man did this place ever live up to that standard.

For starters, the pre-game party in the pavilion was absolutely fantastic. Music, local food booths to supplement the traditional ballpark fare, carnival games…it felt like a party and I was into the party. The Friday night crowd–6,004–was pretty festive, but not in that we-are-having-fun-because-we-should-be way. It was more in line with gearing up for the real show: the baseball game.

Underneath the home plate bleachers, we had the entire history of Reading baseball. Again, the town gives itself a nickname, “Baseballtown,” that I was unsure about…but not for long. Beause the celebration of baseball played on that site for nearly 70 years was as good as it could get. Photos of every Reading team over that time are there: check out the mid-to-late ’70s to see the Phillies building up to the first major league title. On top of the local history, they celebrated local baseball, noting the high

school baseball champions from the area. Also–the girls’ softball champions. That was a nice touch that I was delighted to see.

So I was smitten…and then it got better.

Past the museum as I walked up the third base side, there was a line of people waiting for autographs. That’s because the players had to walk through the concourse to get between the locker room and the field. There, right outside the room, was Cody Asche, he of 390 major league games,

chatting with an elderly couple that one might think he knew. There was a similar run of autograph possibilities for the home team as well. It’s a touch that brings players and fans closer together–I think emotionally. 

Then there’s a trip up the ramp, where the Fightin’ Phils celebrate the building of the 2008 World Series champion Phillies through Reading. And after that, there is my absolute favorite spot–the most spreadsheetiest of thespreadsheety aspects of this park.

The Hall of Fame bar and grill. There, one can have a beer and some food underneath the faces of every baseball Hall of Famer who has ever played at the ballpark in Reading. I couldn’t get over how cool it was. Just as I had the checkmark on my

spreadsheet, they have the checkmark on their ballpark. They acknowledge the visiting players (and beyond: even Pat Gillick is there…made the hall as a GM, but played a game at Reading as a visitor). I just couldn’t get over how cool that was.

Promotions were fine and integrated. It was Latino baseball night, and they did the pregame weather forecast and player introductions in Spanish. We learned that the Spanish word for “thunderstorms” is “tormentas,” which is too cool for words (Matt nearly broke with joy at this discovery). Beyond the occasional on-field wackiness, there wasn’t anything disruptive.

And that was reflected in the culture at the ballpark. A night after sitting with a ton of people not watching baseball in Allentown, but instead making pig noises, I was surrounded by baseball here. Case in point: The Fightin’ Phils have a pool in right field. I’m not a huge fan of the pools in Arizona or Tampa Bay: it feels like conspicuous luxury and antithetical to watching a game. Gorgeous people sit there and not-watch-baseball.

But in Reading, it was entirely different. The pool was mostly filled with kids, which

is not the image I have of the other couple of baseball pools I can think of. The certain result of that, I would have thought, would be an aquatic version of Lord of the Flies. But a simple geographic choice shifted the whole culture. The pool is set up almost flush with the top of the right field wall. As a result, kids swim across the narrow pool, perch on the side, and peek over the edge. At a baseball game.

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Kids, in a pool, were choosing to watch baseball rather than play Marco Polo or splash the crap out of each other.

If we set up a world where it is assumed that people will watch baseball, people will watch baseball. Which is what we do at baseball games.

So I was even more smitten…and then it got even better.

After my first-ever game with the minor-league rule of start-with-the-runner-on-second in the extra innings, after a loud walk-off win, it was time for Launch-A-Ball.

Rob pointed out to me that most of the hula hoops into which we could throw our balls were not prizes we could use: lots of gift certificates from spots we couldn’t go. If we were going to play, we were going to go big: closest to the pin.

Whoever got their ball closest to the pitching rubber would win a hundred bucks.  Why not?

Ball #1: I threw it a line drive over the net.  The friction from the grass slowed it down, and that meant it came up short.

“Huh,” I thought. “I might want to get a little more arc on it: have it bounce instead of roll.  That will get it closer to the rubber.”

I chucked it over the net.  It bounced to the mound, rolled up it…and I was closest to the pin.

I. Was. Closest. To. The. Pin.  And I won a hundred bucks.

Most of that money went to Fightin’ Phils hats for Matt and me, and I was delighted to return that money (which I would have spent anyway) to the team. Because after already having fallen so hard for this ballpark, to have them hand me a Benjamin Franklin as I walked out of the ballpark?  That ain’t too shabby.  

I was made into a hundredaire. And I want to go back.  Heck, I want to do season tickets from two thousand miles away.

Reading, you are Baseballtown. You totally got this right. Thanks for a fabulous night, and keep up the fabulous work.

BALLPARK SCORE:

Regional Feel: 9.5/10.  Just amazing. Loved the focus on so much history. Only a view would have brought this up to perfection.

Charm: 5/5.  All over the place.

Spectacle: 5/5.  Again, as good as anyone can ask.

Team mascot/name: 2.5/5.  By changing from “Phillies” to “Fightin’ Phils,” the team managed to get the worst of both worlds: both too cutesy and too dull.  Many mascots: all fine, but maybe too many to present a cool feeling. Here I am with Screwball.

Aesthetics: 4/5.  Great, in spite of aging bleachers and wood.

Pavilion area: 5/5.  I’d give it a six if I felt I could.

Fans: 4/5.  Quite nice

Intangibles: 5/5.  Dude, I won a hundred bucks.

Overall: 43.5/50

BASEBALL STUFF I SAW HERE:  

My first extra-inning minor league game since the new (dumb) rule about putting a guy on second to start an extra inning came into effect.  

The Fightin’ Phils took the early lead on a three-run shot by Grenny Cumona, but the SeaDogs scrapped back to tie it at 3, as pitcher Denyi Reyes settled down nicely.  

The SeaDogs scored one on a sacrifice and a fielder’s choice to start the 10th, but Alec Bohm singled home two runs to win it for the home team in the bottom half.

Written July 2019.